Lufthansa's low-cost carrier Germanwings kicked off operations at its new Hannover base at the end of last month - I was among a small of group journalists who joined the inaugural flight on one of the new routes - a London Stansted connection to the
north German city. (This is us pictured here at Stansted for the check-in - though in typical budget carrier-style it was not so much a champagne breakfast, as coffee and a pastry!!!)
Germanwings is basing three A320 family aircraft - the 28th, 29th and 30th aircraft to have joined its fleet - at Hannover. Alongside Stansted the initial Hannover routes include flights to Stuttgart - one of its other five bases in Germany- and connections to Vienna, Milan, Budapest, Rome, Barcelona and Moscow. It will also serve Split, Zagreb, Dubrovnik, Zadar, Bastia, Palma de Mallorca and Heraklion.
"Cologne is our main hub and Cologne and Hannover had the same number of passengers at the start of the last decade. Today Germanwings has 16 aircraft based at Cologne with a total of 4 million passengers. So Germanwings has more passengers now than the entire airport in 2002. That shows the magic of the low-cost model and we feel there are a lot of possibilities here [at Hannover]," explained Germanwings chief executive Thomas Winkelmann, during a press briefing at Hannover airport (and pictured here on the right of managing director Axel Schmidt at the inauguration of its latest A319 at the airport).
"There are plenty of people in lower Saxony that drive to Berlin, or drive to other places, so this is the chance. I don't see a reason why we should not copy the success we have had in Cologne or Stuttgart," Winkelmann adds.
And what does it mean for Hannover airport? "It is a real great step forward in terms of destinations, passenger numbers and connectivity," says Raoul Hille, chief executive of the airport. "From today we expect an additional 500,000 passengers out of this operation in 2010 and pre-sales seem to be pretty good and the first flights are full. We have right now about 5 million passengers so this is nearly 10% of the total operation, so it's a real large step forward.
"The future of our customers in Hannover is quite well balanced. We have Air Berlin, we have Germanwings, we have the legacy carriers, we have some carriers in our special niche in east European markets."